Guru Purnima – 3 Lessons I’ve learnt from food

I haven’t had a permanent teacher in my life, someone to constantly look-up to; I believe in taking life lessons from every person that I meet or interact with, the work that I do and all that I experience while traveling, reading or even watching a film. But, in the past few years I’ve realized that I’ve had a constant teacher around me – Food. Whether I was cooking, eating or talking to friends, chefs and fellow food bloggers, there was always a lesson to take away; at times to make me better at what I do and at times to help me realize my own potential. Here’re the lessons that I’ve learnt from food; as an eager eater, enthusiastic cook and a professional food writer.

1. What we eat is what we become
Now, I don’t mean you’ll become a big fat pig if you eat bacon. What I mean is, that the food absorbs the energy of the cook and when we eat that food it gets transferred to us. Around 12 years ago, when I was living alone in Mumbai, I ruined my dinner. That was first for me and I was angry at myself for I had to make do with a bowl of Maggi; I was in a bad mood and an absolute negative space. That was when I realized that the mood you’re in reflects in your cooking. I spoke to my mother the next day and she confirmed my thought; it made me understand why her cooking, which was brilliant on most days, would be below average at times.

Recently, when I was interviewing Chef Thomas Zacharias of The Bombay Canteen, he re-iterated the lesson stressing over the point that happy cooks produce great food. And that’s not it; the principle applies on animals too. Research shows that cows produce better milk when they’re bred in a happy environment. Continue reading

What do north Indians eat?

This is a rant that was building up in my head for a while now. A few months ago I had read an article which – if I had to put it in a sentence – un-generalized Gujarati food for north Indians who think that Gujaratis add sugar to every dish. That’s partly true but it’s not just north Indians who think this way. I have met a number of Maharashtrians and south Indians who share the same thought. In fact, Indians generalize almost every cuisine and culture. Generalizing is our favourite sport.

Anyhow, getting back to this article. While the writer ’saved’ Gujarati food from this brutal generalization, he went ahead and generalized north Indian food. Actually, bashing it to an extent. There are a number of things that irked me. First, what do you categorize as north Indian food? From Uttar Pradesh to Punjab and even Kashmir, all the states are considered north India. The food of one state is vastly different from another. Second, we’re not all butter chicken eating and naan chomping people who don’t know about any dal beyond the kali dal or don’t cook rice that’s anything less than basmati.

Continue reading

How not to write about food 101

“The gorgeous *** breast looked like ***gasm on a ***. The sight of it was enough to tantalize my ***. The first *** was an explosion of *** in my mouth.”

Now read it again…

“The gorgeous chicken breast looked like foodgasm on a plate. The sight of it was enough to tantalize my tastebuds. The first bite was an explosion of flavours in my mouth.”

What? of course I was talking about food you sick mind! Do you think there are other kind of breasts that can look gorgeous? Huh?

With so much food porn, foodgasm and voluptuous prawns around it’s hard to maintain an asexual relationship with food. But can we not save these adjectives for our husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, partners etc. and enjoy a platonic relation with our meals?

This post is not about how to write about food. A lot of food writers know much more about it than I do. This post is to tell the food writers and bloggers how to not write about food. It’s pretty simple, if your writing makes the dish sound unappetizing you are doing it wrong. Your words should give a clear picture of what’s on your plate and not what’s in the hidden folder of your hard drive. Of-course, unless you aspire to be the next E.L. James. In that case you are doing the right thing.

Let’s start with how the dish looks; no, it never looks like “food porn on a plate”. It can look colourful or vibrant or like “the chilli lamb dimsum glistened under the brightly lit lamps”. Just describing what you see on the plate will make lives simpler. “A grilled chicken breast on a bed of creamy potato mash with grilled vegetables on side” will look like “a grilled chicken breast on a bed of creamy potato mash with grilled vegetables on side”, no matter which angle you see it from.

Never ever drool on your food, never. It’s bad manners and also gross. If you drool on your food I will think twice before joining you for a meal.

Remember, the aroma is steam and steam or smoke don’t run. So they never come wafting towards you. You can say that the aroma wafted from the kitchen. Saying that “we got a whiff of what was cooking in the kitchen which helped whet our appetite” would be apt too. But of-course, if you’re getting a whiff from a commercial kitchen then probably they are not using a good exhaust.

Anyway, let’s get to the eating part. “There was an explosion of flavours in my mouth”; no, they never explode unless you are eating the papdi chaat sphere of Molecular Gastronomy fame or Bertie Bott’s every flavour beans or some other unmentionable things. 

We have four distinct tastebuds for sweet, sour, spicy and bitter and there’s the fifth one (umami) too. You can always say that “the gravy was sweet with a hint of sourness”. Also, food doesn’t have acidity, you do if you are eating wrong kind of food. What food has is a citrus flavour. 

Let’s go back to the first example now and write it a bit differently, “the grilled chicken breast looked appetizing sitting on a bed of creamy potato mash. The perfectly cooked meat was juicy with a subtle flavour of honey-ginger-lemon marinade. However, the grilled vegetables were oily and had gone a bit soggy”.

I hope this post helps you for your next review. Keep it simple cause trust me, simple is good and less is more. Those last three words aren’t relevant here. Don’t know why I wrote them.

P.S. – Don’t have foodgasm or any gasm in a restaurant. Save it for the bedroom. Unless you are Meg Ryan.

An open letter to Rasna

Dear Rasna,

The other day I was in a supermarket buying summer coolers when I spotted you. At first, I couldn’t recognize you between the packets of Tang and ice teas; you all looked the same to me. I think that clarifies my initial indifference; I wasn’t trying to ignore you, not deliberately at least.

In order to reunite with you I bought a packet. It had a fancy name of a foreign kind of orange; looked like you were trying hard to impress. You were never about real fruit and added vitamins. Those fads are for juice companies. You were always about fun and taste and that’s what all the kids loved about you. You were our one glass of bliss after a game of langdi-kabaddi or kho-kho in hot Sun. You were the stuff all birthday parties were made of. We never had to buy Coca Cola or Pepsi for our friends cause we knew you’ll always be there with your orange, mango, cola, khus khus and tutti frooti flavours (11 flavours in total). You were there to lift our spirits after a tough day at school; you were there to calm us down before a tough exam; you were there to make play times better and to make study times bearable. Every time we lifted a glass of you we said “I love you Rasna” aloud, and that love came straight from the heart.

Rasna, you have changed so much. The small carton you came in is replaced by a packet and you are just a powdered form. What happened to that small bottle of flavour which was always used as a whistle after being emptied? Sugar too is premixed so there’s no family bonding over mixing sugar in water, adding powdered and liquid flavour to it, filling it in bottles and then treating ourselves to that first glass. Our next generation will never know that making Rasna meant quality family time. It was our first lesson of team work; the tasks divided based on experience among the kids, closely supervised by the adults. There won’t be fights over that last bit of concentrate left in the bottle. The side door of the fridge will never look colourful again. 

It’s not just the way you look has changed, your colour and taste is different too. You are not bright orange anymore; you look like an orange juice and taste synthetic.

Your ads too were about innocent kids and their birthday plans. That area has been taken by adults; now you have Karishma Kapoor and Virendra Sehwag promoting you. Why did you stop being kids’ friend and grew up? Why did you betray our love?

Rasna, without your old self, life’s not the same. I miss you, Rasna!

A distraught kid of the 80s